Bex has reviewed the Region 2 release of Ultraviolet – an all-round excellent series with vampires and vampire-hunting as its central theme.
‘Do you want to know where your loved ones will be in fifty years’ time? Battery farms. Believe me, our free-range days are over.’
Ultraviolet has been likened by many to the X-Files, but – although there are resemblances – such a comparison fails to do justice to the fact that Ultraviolet is a novel, compelling, and well-constructed television series in its own right. Competently acted (and one of the best examples of modern British sci-fi), the series spans 6 only episodes; despite being left open-ended, there is no second season or sequel. Ultraviolet stands alone, which again is rare for a successful television show. The fact that there were only and will only ever be six episodes adds to the desirability of this DVD package, which presents the series to good effect despite the lack of a huge array of extras.
The premise of Ultraviolet is that vampires do exist and that a secret organisation backed by government funds – the CIB – not only tracks their movements, but spends a lot of time helping convert them to ashes. Ashes which are then stored in a high-security containment facility because it’s a well-known fact that vampires can resurrect. The CIB (unlike, say, Buffy) uses high-tech equipment, so someone’s obviously spent some time working out how to bring vampires and vampire-fighting up-to-date. Carbon bullets, guns incorporating cameras and mirror sights, vampire bites that can only be seen through ultraviolet light… these are all updates on popular vampire mythology.
The CIB is made up of the traditional stereotypes of vampire hunting: a priest (Fr Pearse Harman – Philip Quast), an ex-soldier (Vaughan Rice – Idris Elba), and a scientist – in this case a haematology specialist (Dr Angela March – Susannah Harker). The three members of the team are dedicated and experienced, cold and clinically hardened to the killing that permeates their daily existence. The newest addition of the team, a cop (Michael Coleman – Jack Davenport) forced to kill his best friend after the latter becomes a vampire, is the character whose development we follow through the series.
‘When a human dies, the soul dies too. We are the source of all religion. We are the afterlife. There is nothing else…’
From the very start of the show, Mike – along with the viewer – is plunged into a world he must fight to comprehend. He finds the cool professionalism of his colleagues almost impossible to emulate, something made even more difficult by the fact that he still carries a torch for Kirsty, the ex-fiancée of the very friend the CIB recruited him to ‘neutralise’. So despite knowing that he needs to break contact with her for her own safety, his desire to protect her personally creates a growing emotional conflict with the job he has undertaken to perform.
The series tackles some hard topics, from paedophilia to AIDS and abortion. The writing is tight and the cast superb. The direction ensures an aura of spookiness as well as a sense of reality that fully draws you into the storyline and the character dynamics. There are also certain interesting points of ambiguity that further draw the viewer into the series. One of these is the question of whether vampires – or ‘Code 5’ as the CIB call them (‘V’ in Roman numerals, gettit?) – are genuinely evil. The viewer (and the CIB itself) is unsure whether vampires fight to stop mankind’s eventual self-destruction and thus preserve their food resource; whether they seek alternate food sources; whether they want to help or hinder diseases; or whether they simply seek supremacy. Another interesting reversal – though not entirely an original one – is that vampires (the undead) are passionate and charming, whereas the bona fide living-and-breathing humans are often cold and emotionless.
As has been with case with many UK shows, there have long been rumours of an American version of Ultraviolet (reported in SFX in June 2000) which would run for multiple seasons and involve someone going undercover to the vampires’ side. However, since this hasn’t yet aired, it’s fair to say that the idea has probably been canned. Never say never though. But for now, this is the only Ultraviolet available on DVD (though it is available in both R1 and R2 versions).
‘You’re the ones running the extermination campaign. You’re like Nazis.’
After Mike leaves him on his stag night to go meet an informer, Jack stands Kirsty up at the altar. Jack’s disappearance and assumed death kicks off the chain of events chronicled through the series. In this episode we learn of the CIB’s existence, we see the methods used to kill vampires, and we also learn how fond Mike is of Kirsty. We also see the CIB lab which holds the ashen remains of every vampire they’ve ‘neutralised’. Everything is ready for the main action to start.
In Nomine Patris
Mike begins to question the ethics of his new job in execution, while Vaughan warns him to break free from his old life and to stop seeing Kirsty if he wants to keep her safe. Meanwhile, a car with darkened windows gets involved in a road rage incident, leaving a lot of burned flesh and many questions. All evidence points to Lester Hammond, Gideon Hammond’s son, and the CIB gets out into the field to solve the puzzle. In this episode we learn more about vampire finances and the need to ‘follow the money’. We also discover some more background information about Vaughan and Angela.
In an underground car park, Marion (a barrister) is about to be raped when someone steps out from behind a pillar to save her. Her guardian doesn’t show up on videotape and Code 5 involvement is suspected, so the CIB is called in to investigate the case. Back in the ‘normal’ world, Kirsty can’t find Mike – he’s moved house so cleanly it’s as if he’s vanished – so she asks a journalist to help her uncover what really happened to Jack… and what Mike is up to. In the meanwhile, Angela quietly runs some tests for Pearse, who has clearly been keeping some medical condition from the rest of the CIB team. This episode is both touching and hard-hitting (and as such, possibly the most upsetting of the series) but well written and executed, so you truly sympathise with all those involved in the storyline. Certainly more questions raised than answered here, in an instalment dealing with love, experimentation and vampiric plans for the future. (It’s definitely a memorable one.)
A 12-year-old boy attacks a local priest who had befriended him. On top of this, his classmates appear to have an aversion to light. Mike’s police training jumps to the fore as he suspects meningitis and child abuse, while the other members of the CIB unit look elsewhere for answers. Kirsty and Jacob (the journalist) meet up again and though he so far has no leads, he suggests Kirsty meet up with Mike’s last girlfriend, Frances – and she does. There’s more emphasis on Kirsty’s story in this episode, which is welcome. We also find out what’s wrong with Pearse, which sets up everything nicely for the final two episodes.
A plane from Brazil brings with it a bleeding refugee and four caskets. When the refugee’s companion is questioned by the CIB, she asks to speak to Angela’s (dead) husband, who she’s been told has a cure. While the CIB manages to get its hands on one of the caskets, the group must wait until the timer lock opens it so they get to play host to a visitor. Meanwhile, things take a nasty turn for Vaughan at a proposed meeting place between the refugee and the vampires. We learn a lot more about Angela and her husband, and also see the relationships that have developed between the CIB members through their novel line of work. Even Mike and Kirsty meet again, although admittedly not in the best of circumstances.
Persona Non Grata
Finally, the vampires’ point of view is explained – or is it? The vampire being held (Corin Redgrave) starts to play mindgames with Pearse and Angela and it seems everyone is beginning to have doubts about what is real and what isn’t. Kirsty and Jacob confront Mike, and Kirsty finally learns what line of business Mike is actually in now and how he got to be there. The last pieces of the jigsaw fall into place as the endgame starts…
The picture quality is good, and it needs to be, because this is a series that heavily relies on dark colours. There was some graininess evident in the first episode, but only in a couple of very black scenes – and after that the problem never reappeared. It would have been nice to have an anamorphic version, but, as this was a TV series, it’s no surprise there isn’t one available here.
The dialogue is clear and crisp, and there is a wonderfully atmospheric use of background sound in the Dolby surround soundtrack presented here. It’s very subtle for the most part, but the back speakers do get used here, and when there are action sequences you can hear and feel the bass kicking in. It also has a suitably sinister musical soundtrack that complements the series well.
The first thing to mention is the nice purple-y packaging… it’s a very attractive slipcase with a fold-out cardboard inset. I wanted to mention it in particular because it’s really part of what drew me to this DVD set in the first place. The box artwork is overlaid by lettering in a transparent reflective film – so that it is invisible when viewed straight on, but becomes apparent if seen from an angle – which reads, creepy enough, “They look like us. They act like us.” over and over. A very nice touch. Besides, there really aren’t many ‘proper’ extras on the DVDs. A screensaver and weblinks make up the DVD-ROM content, and they’re nice, but won’t set the world alight. Other special features include a gallery of stills of the main cast, as well as biographies. There’s a small easter egg on the second disk that involves strung together soundbites from many of the show’s characters, and it’s quite eerie. The bottom line is, it’s not a DVD to buy for the extras – but the show is so good that it barely matters.
This is a really good, solid series about modern-day vampires. The writing is more than competent, the casting and acting excellent. The soundtrack works well and the storyline is nicely encapsulated within the 6 episodes. (Which is to say, it feels neither too slow- nor too fast-paced, though there are moments of each aspect within it.) As the final chapter ends, you’re left with the knowledge that there is no more – that’s it, the end – and this realisation dawns with more than a little regret. There aren’t many extras, but the show stands alone and is a really enjoyable treatment of a popular theme.
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